Talking Twitter with Adam Maid of Merriam-Webster
5 min Q&A
Each month, Talking Twitter takes you behind the scenes of some of Twitter’s most interesting publishers with the social media professionals responsible for some of the platform’s standout Tweets and viral moments. This month we sat down with Adam Maid, social media manager for America’s beloved and oldest dictionary, Merriam-Webster.
I think that what makes @MerriamWebster resonate with our followers is — at least I hope is — that the tone that we present is authentic. Our company is filled with these absolutely brilliant, hilarious people, and they've all dedicated their lives to the study of language. Our online voice is really informed by those personalities, and the real conversations that we have with each other in our offices and on Slack. We've been around for almost 200 years, but we have a sense of humor, and it's fun, so we don't sound like we're 200 years old.
I think about maybe the greatest day I've ever had on Twitter was this day we had an article about the word “doggo.” I just Tweeted it with the word “Doggos” because I thought that was fun and I figured there'd probably be some followers who would respond with pictures of their dogs because that's the currency of the internet — dog and cat pics. But there was no way for me to know that I was going to get thousands of people send me pictures of their dogs. And I got to spend an entire day with several browsers open, getting inundated, and just affirming and responding to all of these dogs.
You know in “Mary Poppins,” when Dick Van Dyke has that one-man band outfit on? The bass drum, the cymbals, the strings, and the harmonica? That's kind of what it is to be a social media manager in 2019 — you have to be an entertainer, a news hound, a writer, an editor, publicist, designer and researcher, an insomniac, a race car driver … and a lot of other metaphors you could probably throw in.
The internet never really turns off. So if you're doing anything that's tied to current events, like what ends up happening with our trending words, you have to have an eye on culture at all times. You're probably going to be the first person to hear about anything that happens in the world, whether good or bad, so I think that you need an innate sense of tact and — this is really important to me — a healthy sense of respect for your audience.
It also means that if there's any TV show or movie that you really care about, you need to be among the first people to see it, because it'll get spoiled immediately!
My first gig in any kind of social media in a professional capacity was in 2013. I got hired at this company that had a whole bunch of those parody accounts. A little after that, in 2014, I was hired at Random House at one of their imprints called @VintageAnchor. At least, from my perspective, that's kind of around the time when Twitter started to transition into what it's more used for now, which is sort of like more of a 24-hour news ticker.
People started looking at Twitter more as this source for on-the-ground reporting, and the first takes on what is happening in the world. That was a really formative time for me to figure out what a balance was between a brand's voice and its content, and how those two can be combined to have some larger relevance to what the cultural conversation is.
I mean, if you ask my friends they’d probably say that it's a little bit unhealthy, but I think that it's just right! I just saw this movie, “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” and it has this line that I've been thinking about a lot: “You can’t really love something unless you hate it.” Which isn't me saying that I hate Twitter, but I think that for a social media manager, you need to understand just the amount of power that these platforms have. You know, they can shape a person’s day, like something that's online can shape their entire day, or that scrolling through their timeline can change their mind. So it's kind of like what Spiderman says, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
It’s a simple one, but having 280 characters. I was a staunch originalist when this first happened — I was really proud that I had spent all this time shaping jokes and Tweets into 140 characters, and I was hesitant to really embrace this new way of doing things. I remember when it was first getting rolled out, and some accounts had 280 but some didn’t. Someone Tweeted that if any account should have 280, it should be Merriam-Webster. And I sent back something saying like, “We’d just waste them on extravagant synonyms anyway.” And then when we finally got it, I just did 280 characters of synonyms for the word extravagant, which is an Easter egg for literally nobody in the world but me. Since then I've started to learn to embrace it, because I think it can really let a Tweet breathe, especially now that Twitter is becoming more of an information-based platform.
Happy #DictionaryDay! In honor of birthday boy Noah Webster, we’re going to take on a probably large, probably ill-advised endeavor.
— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) October 16, 2018
For every one (1) like of this post, we’ll give you one (1) obscure, unusual, or just fairly interesting word.
You know, from the standpoint of lexicography, I’m happy that there's no edit button, because if we have a new word or usage that we're looking at, we've got these really amazing date and timestamped instances of where that word has been used, and you know for sure that it hasn't been tampered with. Twitter is a place where we can see language change in real time.
I think if there's anything that I really want, it would be more of an expanded search function, and easier way to separate through things. When we see a word that's awesome or trending, Twitter is a great place to learn more about it, but there can be a lot to sort through.
My boss, Lisa Schneider, has this line that she is very fond of that our mission is to propagate our irrational love of the English language. Another part of that is that our goal is to help people understand language so they can understand and communicate with the world. And that's our goal as a company. That’s also our goal on Twitter.
It’s not just one Tweet, but it was a great campaign that HBO did, where they had people reply to a Tweet to receive Sopranos-style nicknames, and I am so jealous, just from a creativity standpoint, that I didn't get to do that.
I'm a really big movie person, so I like @A24, or @alamodrafthouse. Those movie accounts are definitely must-follows for me. I really love @sesamestreet. They do just wonderful, simple things, and it's so charming. It's great. I follow @ringer for sports-related things. My favorite right now is probably this account that Tweets Wikipedia titles that you can sing to the Ninja Turtles theme song.
I will say this, if you're going to do something, do it well.
It's not really my style. Unless there's any clear, necessary reason to have them, I kind of avoid them all together.
Since I started working here and I can suddenly talk for 20 minutes about language, what constitutes a word kind of boils down to this one thing: If you use something as a word, with a specific meaning intended, and someone else understands that meaning, then that thing is fulfilling its basic function as a word.
Let's see, I have one here … it's just “Guy Feiri is the only hero we have left.” And I think that might actually be one of my core beliefs. I honestly love that man.